Understand your models with #TidyTuesday inequality in student debt

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This is the latest in my series of screencasts demonstrating how to use the tidymodels packages, from starting out with first modeling steps to tuning more complex models. Today’s screencast is a short one! It walks through how we can use tidyverse and tidymodels functions to explore a model after we have trained it, using this week’s #TidyTuesday dataset on student debt inequality. 👩‍🎓


Here is the code I used in the video, for those who prefer reading instead of or in addition to video.

Explore the data

Our modeling goal is to understand how student debt and inequality has been changing over time. We can build a model to understand the relationship between student debt, race, and year.

library(tidyverse)
student_debt <- read_csv("https://raw.githubusercontent.com/rfordatascience/tidytuesday/master/data/2021/2021-02-09/student_debt.csv")

student_debt

## # A tibble: 30 x 4
##     year race     loan_debt loan_debt_pct
##                      
##  1  2016 White       11108.         0.337
##  2  2016 Black       14225.         0.418
##  3  2016 Hispanic     7494.         0.219
##  4  2013 White        8364.         0.285
##  5  2013 Black       10303.         0.412
##  6  2013 Hispanic     3177.         0.157
##  7  2010 White        8042.         0.280
##  8  2010 Black        9510.         0.321
##  9  2010 Hispanic     3089.         0.144
## 10  2007 White        5264.         0.197
## # … with 20 more rows

This is a very small data set, and we can build a visualization to understand it better.

student_debt %>%
  ggplot(aes(year, loan_debt_pct, color = race)) +
  geom_point(size = 2.5, alpha = 0.8) +
  geom_smooth(method = "lm", se = FALSE) +
  labs(x = NULL, y = "% of families with student loan debt", color = NULL)

Notice that the proportion of families with student has been rising (dramatically!) but at different rates for different races/ethnicities.

Build a model

We can start by loading the tidymodels metapackage, and building a straightforward model specification for linear regression.

library(tidymodels)

lm_spec <-
  linear_reg() %>%
  set_engine("lm")

Let’s fit that model to our data, using an interaction to account for how the rates/slopes have been changing at different, well, rates for the different groups.

lm_fit <-
  lm_spec %>%
  fit(loan_debt_pct ~ year * race, data = student_debt)

lm_fit

## parsnip model object
##
## Fit time:  1ms
##
## Call:
## stats::lm(formula = loan_debt_pct ~ year * race, data = data)
##
## Coefficients:
##       (Intercept)               year       raceHispanic          raceWhite
##        -21.161193           0.010690          15.563202           5.933064
## year:raceHispanic     year:raceWhite
##         -0.007827          -0.002986

What do we do with this now, to understand it better? We could tidy() the model to get a dataframe.

tidy(lm_fit)

## # A tibble: 6 x 5
##   term               estimate std.error statistic      p.value
##                                      
## 1 (Intercept)       -21.2       2.58        -8.20 0.0000000204
## 2 year                0.0107    0.00129      8.29 0.0000000166
## 3 raceHispanic       15.6       3.65         4.26 0.000270
## 4 raceWhite           5.93      3.65         1.63 0.117
## 5 year:raceHispanic  -0.00783   0.00182     -4.29 0.000250
## 6 year:raceWhite     -0.00299   0.00182     -1.64 0.114

However, I find it hard to look at model coefficients like this with an interaction term and know what it is going on! This is also true of many kinds of models where the model output doesn’t give you a lot of insight into what it is doing.

Explore results

Instead, we can use augment() to explore our model in a situation like this. The augment() function adds columns for predictions given data. To do that, we need some data, so let’s make some up.

new_points <- crossing(
  race = c("Black", "Hispanic", "White"),
  year = 1990:2020
)

new_points

## # A tibble: 93 x 2
##    race   year
##     
##  1 Black  1990
##  2 Black  1991
##  3 Black  1992
##  4 Black  1993
##  5 Black  1994
##  6 Black  1995
##  7 Black  1996
##  8 Black  1997
##  9 Black  1998
## 10 Black  1999
## # … with 83 more rows

This is way more points than we used to train this model, actually.

Now we can augment() this data with prediction, and then make a visualization to understand how the model is behaving.

augment(lm_fit, new_data = new_points) %>%
  ggplot(aes(year, .pred, color = race)) +
  geom_line(size = 1.2, alpha = 0.7) +
  labs(x = NULL, y = "% of families with student loan debt", color = NULL)

This is a flexible approach, and if our model had more predictors, we could have made visualizations with small multiples. I have even made Shiny apps in the past to help understand what a very detailed model is doing. Keep this function in mind as you build your models!

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